any clues

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 4 16:11:05 UTC 2012

Thanks for your response, Joel. I think we probably agree. The
author's comment about a "Pier Six brawl in tennis" was meant to be a
joke. He was not saying that the phrase had actually been applied in
that domain.

The writer was implicitly providing an etymology for "Pier Six brawl".
He was suggesting that "Pier Six" referred to a pier in Staten Island.
The early references starting in 1926 were in the boxing domain. The
writer probably had heard the term "Pier Six brawl" used in the boxing

Here is one hypothesis: Perhaps "Pier Six" in Staten Island was known
as a dangerous and sometimes lawless area where brawls might occur
with regularity. The brawls would not follow the Marquess of
Queensberry Rules. At some point a sports writer referred to a tough
boxing match as a "Pier Six brawl" and the term became popular.

Below is a letter that was written to the Boston Globe in 1895 about
"Pier T" in Boston. This article was not about Pier Six in New York. I
am posting this article because I think it illustrates stereotypes
about the lawlessness associated with piers in urban areas. The
article contained the phrase "disturbance or brawl on this pier". The
letter writer was a police officer who was actually denying that Pier
T was a dangerous area.

Cite: 1895 February 24, Boston Globe, Quiet and Orderly, Page 16,
Boston Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

[Begin excerpt]

"Special" on T Wharf Calls Attention to the Good Police Service.

Being a constant reader and admirer of The Globe,  I  hope you will
make space in your paper for the following statement in answer to the
writer in The Globe Thursday evening, Feb 21, concerning Capt Phinney
of the schooner Harvester, which laid at this dock.

I want to say particularly that the information your correspondent
received relative to T wharf and its surroundings is entirely untrue.

The facts are these:  I have been a special officer on this wharf for
the past  11  years, being  employed  by the T wharf corporation, and
I  can positively state that there are no treacherous men, thieves or
murderers who linger around here nights, nor has there been one on any
night for the past 11 years, making a business of attacking and
robbing sailors as they are bound for their vessels, and this wharf is
not lonely and unguarded. ...

In case of any disturbance or brawl on this pier, or on board of any
of the vessels docked here, I need only rap on the gate fronting the
avenue and in five minutes there are two or more police officers on
the grounds.

[End excerpt]

Here is a fun tangentially related citation. I post it because the author was
Rudyard Kipling and the book discussed a "a brawl at a pier".
However, Kipling was not referring to "pier six", and the brawl was a
naval battle.

Cite: 1917, Sea Warfare by Rudyard Kipling Quote Page 131 and 132,
Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. (Google Books full

[Begin excerpt with section title on page 131]

       A Brawl at a Pier

Now we will take E 14 on various work, either alone or as flagship of
a squadron composed of herself and Lieutenant Commander Nasmith's
boat, E 11.

… (skip text) …

Then E 14 had a brawl with a steamer with a yellow funnel, blue top
and black band, lying at a pier among dhows.
[End excerpt]


On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 9:56 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: any clues
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 6/3/2012 02:03 AM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
>>Below is a citation that may provide some evidence about the etymology.
>>Cite: 1941 December 11, Oswego Palladium-Times Suggests Double
>>Daylight Saving by Hugh Fullerton, Jr. [Wide Words Sports Columnist],
>>Page 13, Column 7, Oswego, New York. (Old Fulton) [Remark: Date is
>>difficult to read; The December 11 dateline on the article is legible;
>>1941 is year given in database; December 11, 1941 is a Thursday and
>>Thursday is legible]
>>[Begin excerpt]
>>Ever hear of a Pier Six brawl in tennis? Well, what used to be Pier 6,
>>Tompkinsville, Staten Island, has been turned into a recreation center
>>and a couple of major indoor tennis events may be held here.
>>[End excerpt]
>>There are several caveats: The author may not know the correct
>>etymology. The interpretation he seems to suggest may be based on a
>>coincidental name: Pier Six. This article appeared in 1941, i.e., many
>>years after 1926 when the phrase was already in circulation.
> My guess is that the answer to the question above ("ever hear ...")
> is "never" -- that is, the author was placing tennis in opposition to
> Pier Six brawls, and he new etymology came from some other "sport".
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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